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Which Nitrogen Fertilizer is Best for Your Crops, Nitrate, Ammonium, or Amide?
2023/4/28 18:05:10

Which Nitrogen Fertilizer is Best for Your Crops, Nitrate, Ammonium, or Amide?


Nitrogen (N) is one of the most important nutrients required for crop production. Nitrogen is to crops, what water is to fish. Yearly, more than 100 million tonnes of nitrogen are applied to crops in the form of fertilizer, helping them grow stronger and better.

Based on the forms of nitrogen they contain, nitrogen fertilizers are classified into following three categories, viz. (1) nitrate, (2) ammonium, and (3) amide (urea).


Nitrogen Cycle (source: ICL)

1. Nitrate (NO3-)

Contain nitrogen in the form of nitrate which is preferred by most of the plants. Such as calcium nitrate, potassium nitrate, sodium nitrate and etc.


  • Soluble in water and hygroscopic.

  • Nitrate is easily absorbed by plants at high rates. Unlike urea or ammonium, it is immediately available as a nutrient.

  • Nitrate is not held by soil particles and has a greater potential to leach. It can also be lost by denitrification.

  • Used in top dressing.

2. Ammonium (NH4+)

Contain nitrogen in the form of ammonium. Such as ammonium sulphate, ammonium chloride and etc.



  • Soluble in water and hygroscopic.

  • Ammonium is directly absorbed by plants at low rates. Most of the ammonium is transformed into nitrate by soil microbes. Uptake of ammonium is slower than nitrate.

  • Ammonium, which is held in an exchangeable form on soil particles, does not readily leach. While ammonium is converted to ammonia gas via volatilization or nitrate (NO3-) via nitrification. Nitrate is the form that can be moved out of the soil profile by leaching or lost by denitrification. 

  • Used in top dressing and basal application.

3. Amide (Urea)


  • Soluble in water and hygroscopic.

  • Plant roots do not directly absorb the ureic form of nitrogen in significant quantities. Urea firstly hydrolysed to ammonium by soil enzymes, subsequently be converted to nitrate or be taken up by crops.

  • Nitrogen loss of urea in soil through ammonia volatilization, nitrate leaching and denitrification.

  • Used in top dressing and basal application.



Uptake rate by crop: nitrate > ammonium > amide (urea)

How to Choose the Nitrogen Fertilizer?

According to the nature of the soil:

Acidic soil: Recommend chemical alkaline or physiological alkaline nitrogen fertilizers.

Saline-alkali soil: To prevent an increase in soil salinity levels, farmers should avoid excessive application of ammonium chloride, which contains chloride ions, to saline-alkali soil.

Alkaline soil: Recommend ammonium. It is important to note that crops can easily absorb it. However, it is also crucial to prevent the breakdown and release of ammonium nitrogen. 


In summary, nitrogen is an essential nutrient for crop production, and the use of nitrogen fertilizers is crucial for improving crop growth and yield. Nitrogen fertilizers are classified into three categories, namely nitrate, ammonium, and amide (urea). Nitrate are preferred by most plants since they are immediately available as a nutrient, while ammonium are absorbed at a slower rate but are more stable in the soil. Urea is hydrolyzed to ammonium, which is transformed into nitrate or absorbed by crops. The selection of the appropriate nitrogen fertilizer is dependent on the soil characteristics and the growth requirements of crops. Proper management of nitrogen fertilizers is necessary to optimize crop growth, minimize negative environmental impacts, and ensure sustainable agriculture.  With proper usage, nitrogen fertilizers will continue to be an essential tool in enhancing crop growth and feeding the world’s growing population.


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